Winter is over -- for the rest of the country anyway -- and festival season is here. In the coming months, we'll swing dance on Polk Street, sport leather chaps (if anything) on Folsom, and do art in Sausalito. The cycle begins with the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, now in its 33rd year. Some Japanese liken the two-week period of cherry blossoms (sakura) to life -- fleetingly beautiful and gone before you know it. When cherry trees bloom in Japan, the entire country gets a facelift as the sun inevitably shines, parks fill with parties, and all worries are set aside, if only temporarily. The festival here aims to revere the flower in a similar way, and with exhibits peppering a Japantown aflutter with goings-on, some of the most interesting draws are the cultural arts and activities interwoven within the celebration.
On Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and continuing April 15 and 16), Tsuzen Nakajima presides over a collection of his woodblock prints, appearing for the first time outside Japan in "The Magic World: Nostalgic Images of Japan" in the Miyako Mall. Salmon, trout, and more are explored in Tomoyuki Takeuchi's exhibit of illustrations, "Fish of Hokkaido," Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Kinokuniya Building. The exhibit "Stitching Memory, Crafting History" gives voice to Japanese-American women who tell their stories through quilting, displayed Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at the Japanese American Historical Society. Demonstrations of other traditional arts include washi ningyo (paper dolls), sumi-e (ink painting), tea ceremony, and samurai swords; most of the festival's exhibits and demonstrations are free.
The Cherry Blossom Festival takes place over the next two weekends, with special events like the 2000 Cherry Blossom Queen Pageant on Saturday at 7 p.m. ($25), the Karaoke Song Festival on Sunday from 1 to 5:30 p.m. ($25), and the always spectacular U.S./Japan Taiko Festival on Saturday, April 15 at 7 p.m. ($15-20) featuring S.F. Taiko Dojo, Sacramento Taiko Dan, and three groups from Japan (all three events at AMC Kabuki 8 Theater). Marking the festival's conclusion, the Grand Parade starts at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 16, leaving City Hall to snake its way through Japantown on Post Street. All other exhibits and events take place in venues between Geary & Bush and Fillmore & Laguna. For exact locations, a full schedule of events, and more information call 563-2313.